Gov. Neil Abercrombie began his State of the State Address Tuesday morning by speaking to those who are cynical of government.
"At its heart, politics is about doing good and relieving suffering. If politics is done right, it is all about making life better for people," said Abercrombie.
Gov. Abercrombie denounced those who reduce politics to slogans and bumper stickers.
"In secular political terms, the Party Line is established and with today’s cyber-technology, internet-hysteria often takes on a life of its own. Perspective gives way to prosecution or even persecution. We can do better than what we have lately witnessed. The level of discourse in our public policy discussion stands in need of elevation," said Abercrombie.
Gov. Abercrombie says we are confronting a political "Jeopardy!" As in the game show, everyone already has the answers and the challenge is to figure out and frame the right questions.
"At its heart, politics is about doing good and relieving suffering. If politics is done right, it is all about making life better for people."
- Gov. Neil Abercrombie
"My thought is irrespective of what we are for or against, we cannot allow ourselves to preempt the raising of pressing questions we need to comprehend and address lest we lose our way before we even begin to understand where we need to go or what path to take," said Abercrombie.
The governor pointed to unfunded liabilities like healthcare benefits, exploding pension deficits and the Public Land Development Corporation.
The governor's first topic of his speech was on the state budget.
Gov. Abercrombie said when he took office, the state was facing a $1.3 billion potential budget shortfall for Fiscal Biennium 2011-13. The year-end general fund balances for Fiscal Year 2011 was $126 million and $275 million for Fiscal Year 2012, according to Gov. Abercrombie. He said in about five months, the state is looking at a positive balance once again.
Because of the budget, the state was able to maintain pension benefits for our retirees, according to the governor.
Abercrombie said,"For the record: This is not Wisconsin. This is not Michigan. This Administration is not going to abandon collective bargaining, but neither will it bankrupt the future for all by buying some temporary solution that does not address the fundamental fiscal issues we cannot escape."
The governor also said, as of July 1, the five percent pay reductions will end for state workers and full pay will be restored.
Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui was put in charge of continuing to invest in the economy via construction and repair and maintenance projects and public-private ventures.
Gov. Abercrombie also took time to honor the late Sen. Daniel Inouye.
"For many of us, we have never known a time when Senator Inouye was not the center of our political life. But while his physical presence may no longer be with us, the spirit of his example of public service sets an unmatched standard we can only aspire toward," said Abercrombie.
The governor said it's time to pay back the Hurricane Relief Fund and the Rainy Day Fund.
Gov. Abercrombie second topic focused on energy. He says with the departure of Tesoro Corp., Hawaii will only have one oil refinery and we will be importing the rest.
"We face greater exposure to the events occurring elsewhere in the world that affect our fuel pipeline – whether in the Middle East, Asia, on the seas, or at Mainland refineries and ports," said Abercrombie.
So, the governor is creating the Hawaii Refinery Task Force -- 27 interested stakeholders from various levels of government and the private sector to work on short-term and long-term findings due to Tesoro's closure.
Gov. Abercrombie also proposed looking at Liquefied Natural Gas as an alternative energy source.
LNG would allow the state to purchase from U.S. sources instead of going overseas. The governor said the resource is abundant and the technology exists for us to use it now.
The governor also pointed out the cutback in the solar tax credit. He said, "The lack of clarity and confusion by some gaming the system, created an uneven playing field for the renewable energy companies."
The governor said he is asking the Department of Taxation to work with the Legislature to find the appropriate balance and amendments to the tax credit to make it fair for everyone and sustainable.
The governor is looking to increase the conveyance tax, limited to high-end property transactions valued at more than $2 million to fund watershed protection. Gov. Abercrombie said it would generate $10 million. Another proposal is to look at a 10 cent fee for single-use checkout bags that could generate $15 million.
The governor is also pushing innovation and entrepreneurship. He is proposing the Hawaii Growth Initiative, a state investment program focused on building an innovation ecosystem that supports entrepreneurial high growth businesses and creates high wage jobs. This will also include agricultural and farming ventures.
Gov. Abercrombie will be asking the Legislature to increase the Kupuna Care budget by $4.2 million for Hawaii's seniors.
The governor also wants to raise Hawaii's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.75 an hour starting in January 2014. He said the minimum wage has not increased for more than six years and 19 other states and the District of Columbia have higher minimum wages with less to confront in cost of living.
Gov. Abercrombie will also reopen the Kulani Correctional Facility by July 1, 2014 to restore jobs on the Big Island and return more than $5 million a year to Hawaii currently spent on Arizona correctional facilities. The new Kulani will work with the University of Hawaii at Hilo to provide inmates who are two to four years from finishing their sentences.
Other highlights of the State of the State:
- Institution of an Enterprise Resource Planning initiative, a collaborative and cooperative inter-agency plan to integrate and provide consistency within our state’s finances, budget, payroll, human resources, acquisition, assets and grants.
- The 21st Century Schools initiative is a public-private partnership that allows the Department of Education to lease underutilized lands for the purpose of generating income to be used to upgrade existing schools or construct new schools.
- Within the next three years, the state aims to provide each of our public school students with current curricular materials on a digital device, such as a tablet or laptop.
On behalf of the House Minority Caucus, Minority Leader Aaron Ling Johanson made the following statement in response to the State of the State Address:
"The Minority Caucus agrees with the Governor that at its heart, politics exists to do good for people. We are encouraged by the Governor’s call for a new, cooperative tone in legislative dialogue. This legislative session, unlike any year before, may be Hawaii’s best chance to put politics aside and meaningfully focus on reaching common ground."
"Conceptually, we find common ground with the Governor’s priorities to increase transparency, focus on education, address unfunded liabilities and support our veterans."
"The Governor’s proposals are part of an ambitious agenda. The question will be how we pay for all of these initiatives. We should proceed with cautious optimism and be careful not to overcommit our state’s financial resources during our fragile economic recovery. It is our responsibility as leaders to ensure that we stay on a path toward long-term financial solvency to best honor our state’s obligation to its people."